January 8, 2009. This day is a special day. My mother was born 64 years ago today. She is celebrating her birthday! Woo Hoo! Oh, and she shares the birth date with Elvis - but that's another story for another day!
She's a little anxious today. She has a follow up doctor appointment. In her heart and body, she knew the results. But frankly, as a "cup half full" girl, I saw it as the "cup is half empty" view until we knew something concrete. I had a valid reason for feeling this way but before going further with my mother's journey, we must go backwards 3 weeks.
It was Wednesday, December 17, 2008, I was sitting in the parking lot of a prospective client in Virginia. My phone rang and it was my father. I had five minutes, before I needed to go in, but he wanted to talk to me quickly. My father proceeds to tell me that he has just gotten back from the doctor and he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I didn't even know there was a possibility. He is like me, the "cup is half full" so he didn't tell anyone and thought all would be well. He's never had cancer, and he had no reason to believe he did now. I was stunned. I stayed stunned for a while - and I don't really remember my appointment - but eventually my faith kicked in and I knew all would be well, regardless of what happened. Fast forward through emotions, decisions, and Christmas - the decision was made, dad's surgery was scheduled for January 23, 2009.
Now, back to January 8, 2009. My dad's diagnosis was the reason why I thought Mom was choosing the negative view, versus the one with hope and confidence. My parents had been married 47 years in August 2008. It hasn't always been rosy, but in spite of everything, they have a great marriage and have come through a lot together. I never dreamed they would experience being diagnosed with cancer together - at the same time. Talk about emotions! But, yes, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had known - partly because of her body, but both her mother and sister had breast cancer in the past and neither were still living. She had reason for anxiety. Fast Forward through more emotions and decisions, her surgery was scheduled for February 19, 2009.
Mother is a trooper. She is strong when she needs to be strong. Don't get me wrong - she is a pure prima donna too! Of course, this apple didn't fall far from that tree! Anyway, she read the books, the doctor told her to - she stayed away from the internet as her doctor told her to - she did what she was supposed to do! She was going to get through this.
We made it through my dad's surgery and she did very well. Once she knew he was fine, the cancer was removed and he was officially a survivor - then her anxiety for her process started. Although he was still in his recovery period, he was going to be ok! I have lots of joy and laughable moments during his recovery, but that's another story for another day! She now had about 4 weeks until her surgery! The doctor's appointments continued and the decisions were finalized.
Surgery Day came and she had a tremendous amount of support from family and friends. She came through it and the doctor felt very comfortable that all was well and all of the cancer had been removed. We were rejoicing. She was weak, but she was rejoicing too. I knew we were ok when she awoke the next morning in the hospital with orders in hand. The general was awake and we all had immediate tasks because the doctor was coming today! I knew she was going to be just fine! Come to find out, the doctor didn't come until late in the day, but the gift we had was the family of four (mother, father, brother, and me) were all together all day.....in one small cramped hospital room. We had fun as any normal (or not normal) family would do. We laughed and pestered each other as we waited. It had been 27 years since I had lived in the same town with them - so to me, this was a gift - just the 4 of us. The doctor came and she could go home to recover. All was well with this first stage of treatment.
Many doctors appointments occurred over the next few weeks. The immediate cancer was removed, but her drains were still in and decisions were still needed regarding further treatment to kill any remaining cancer cells that may be dormant now, but could surface later. The drains turned out to be in longer than anticipated. It's hard to know what's normal and what's not - is it blocked, is this amount normal or not? Turns out, it was a little bit of both. Sometimes it was blocked and sometimes it was normal. Unfortunately, the drains remained the maximum length allowable and caused both annoyance and pain. Mother was not interested in going out much or surfacing to see the world. The problem is that energy begets energy, so she needed to at times. The little general was born. Remember the apple, I mentioned earlier - yep, that's me!
Finally, the drains were out, more decisions were made and the first chemotherapy treatment began on March 25, 2009. This is where courage and strength really kicks in the most. Chemotherapy is hard. There really aren't words that can describe this process. The people are nice, compassionate and gentle but the drugs could never be described in this way. They are invasive, disruptive and painful. I was amazed because my mother would take to the chemotherapy pretty well (with some exceptions) as she was receiving it. But at some point within 24 to 48 hours, the reaction would hit. It was like all of the energy and health gathered together and as one decided to leave her body. She crashed and it took everything out of her. Her body ached and hurt with no comfort to be found and unfortunately, very little sleep. She was down for the count for days. It was a pain that I can't describe - maybe one day she will journal and put it into words for us. A week later she would begin to surface and she could live life - albeit slowly, until the next round. They were three weeks apart so that would generally be less than a week away from the time we surfaced again.
We were hoping the first round was the toughest. We realized after the fact that she waited longer than she needed to call the doctor. The doctor releases the next round of medicine (usually a day or two after the treatment) when he is called and that gets her through the rest of the process. She waited 4 days because she thought she was supposed to be handling this level of pain and it was normal. Wrong. We learned our lesson and a better interpretation of the symptoms. She is strong and a trooper but that lesson won't be repeated.
Another milestone is that we really thought her hair would remain until after the second treatment. That was my recollection from a friend in the past. Therefore, when her hair started falling out after the first treatment, it was devastating for my mother. We hadn't yet gotten wigs - so this was our first and immediate task when I came back in town, the day before her next treatment. This was really tough for my mother. Her view of herself was pretty low - she didn't feel well, she had more weight than she wanted and now she had no hair. I thought she looked fabulous and was cute as a button - but not Mother, she was depressed. This is not good for a chemotherapy patient. This is where friends and family come in. It's important to express a lot of love - during this time, there is never enough.
As each new round of treatment occurred, different pains and feelings occurred. It was hard to know how to prepare - at least from my perspective. What I did know and what was consistent is that every time between 24 - 48 hours, the reaction would hit and she was always down for the count. I was amazed because you could never see it coming. It hit at once, out of the blue. But, we learned that it will always hit, you just don't know exactly when. We were prepared and it would always pass through her body just in time for the next round.
Her last round was May 27th, 2009. Her last appointment for her chemotherapy rounds was June 17 - although thankfully, there were no drugs that day. She had survived. She could now rebuild and recover. She had made it. She is officially a survivor.
There are many things that I could describe further with this process - there were so many emotions, events and milestones. As I write this - 4 months later - there is one really big gift that I recall and cherish above everything. In spite of everything between both my mom and my dad, there was joy and learning through the process. The gift I received is the opportunity of a life time. I moved away from home to go to college in August of 1982 and I never returned to the same town again. My brother came back immediately after college, but my life took me else where. Through this process, I was able to live here with my parents more than I lived in my own house back in Tampa. My husband was a doll, very supportive and we still spent every weekend together - even if I wasn't able to be there during the week. The rest of the time, I was with my parents and my brother was close by. It is very different to live with my parents as a child and until 18, then when I am 44. We laughed, we cried and we bonded like we never had before. We've always been close, but this was different. I was an adult and on their same level. I am always their baby, but I'm the little apple that fell from their tree. At times they were proud and other times they wished I hadn't gotten a specific trait from them! This was a gift from God that I will cherish forever.
This part of the journey is over - with a new journey ahead. They are both survivors. I told my mother that I wanted to walk in her honor during the Tampa 3 day - Susan G. Komen walk for the cure. It's 60 miles in 3 days - 20 miles a day. I've never done anything like it before. In order to walk I have to raise $2,300. If you would like to support me and my mother, then please go to my page and donate whatever you feel led to give. http://www.the3day.org/site/TR/Walk/TampaBayEvent2009?px=3493073&pg=personal&fr_id=1301
The coolest thing about this is that I now have Team Tishie (in honor of my mother Trish Richards) and not only am I walking, but my mother, father, husband and one of my best friends is walking with me, as Team Tishie. We each have to raise $2,300 and we can't share donations, so if you or someone you know would like to donate to their walk, go to www.the3day.org - click on Donate, click on Search for Participant and key in Team Tishie. We are the 2009 Tampa Bay Team Tishie Team: Angie Gilbreath, Mike Gilbreath, Jerre Richards and Trish Richards.
What a miracle - What a gift from God!